Q. We have a number of vulnerable children on our school roll. We recognise that they are not making the progress that they should. Do you have any suggestions for actions we might take?

Published: Sunday, 07 April 2019

A. This is a very important issue for you to flag up. Improving educational outcomes for this group of children can really enhance their life chances, but it is difficult to do. You have many factors working against you. Challenging home circumstances can make in-school actions less effective. However complex the barriers might seem, you are responsible for doing your very best to make the difference. 

Of course, every case is unique and the first step is looking at the individual situation and the factors that are preventing your pupil from achieving the progress he or she might. You will need help with this, and not just from people within your school. There are likely to be other services working closely with the family, and it is important that you seek their assistance too.

The document Improving educational outcomes of children in need of help and protection was published by the DfE in December 2018. It recommends that key points for action include:

  • strong leadership and shared goals that establish high aspirations for educational outcomes
  • skills and training to recognise the impact of trauma and adversity and to understand children’s behaviour
  • inclusive whole-school approaches
  • good relationships with children and families through clear communication, empathy and advocacy underpinned by stability and consistency of support
  • effective multi-agency working and information sharing.

These are areas which you might want to look at to establish how embedded they are in your school and what actions you might take to improve them. Having a consistent adult available was also recommended in the report. This should be someone who your pupil trusts and whom they can turn to, without necessarily drawing attention to themselves or being perceived by others as having special treatment. It’s a tricky balance to establish.

You might also want to look at the extent to which staff have sufficient information available to be supportive of vulnerable children and to enable them to make proportional adjustments. Sometimes vulnerable children will arrive at school distressed or without the uniform and equipment they need. They may not have done their homework or may have missed a meal. Allowances need to be made and staff kept informed.

Another research report, Research to understand successful approaches to supporting the most academically able disadvantaged pupils, was published by the DfE and Warwick University. The report looks specifically at more able pupils, but the results of their research might be applied to a wider group than this.

The report suggests that there is no single intervention that will create the improvements you aspire to. Interventions need to be applied across four areas:
academic extension – ‘stretch and challenge’ and, where necessary, academic support to get back

  • on track
  • cultural enrichment – opening eyes and minds to opportunities
  • personal development – raising confidence, addressing emotional and/or social issues, leadership opportunities, community involvement
  • the removal of financial barriers, e.g. paying for equipment, lending uniform and contributing or paying for the cost of trips.

The report includes a number of case studies that might be useful for you to consider and apply aspects of in your own context. Both reports can help you generate ideas and demonstrate a strong evidence base.

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